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It is the most hurtful thing anyone could say to you, yet you will hear some form of this at least once in your lifetime: “Bariatric surgery is taking the easy way out.”
But is it really? Let’s find out exactly why that statement is inherently false.
If you are to the point where you are informing your family that you are considering weight loss surgery, I’m just going to assume you’ve already done hours of research to see if it is right for you. You may have already consulted with a surgeon and jumped seemingly countless hoops to get your insurance to approve you. This is not an overnight decision, you have thought it through. The entire process takes — at the very minimum — six months from start to finish, and during that time, you are consulting with many different specialists, including your primary care doctor, a psychiatrist, a dietician, and what I assume is a very knowledgeable and experienced bariatric surgeon. If your own medical team, who knows the ins and outs of your health history, believe you are a good candidate for surgery, why would we ever think to allow to people who have no knowledge sway our opinion?
Saying surgery is an easy way out diminishes the fact that it is life-saving. The majority of surgery patients are going under the knife for reasons far more important than the way they look in a swimming suit. Sure, it’s nice to look better, that’s a plus, but bariatric surgery for many people is also reversing diabetes, reversing heart disease, clearing up GERD, reversing hypertension, getting people off many medications, and resolving sleep apnea.
Not only are our lives extended, but the QUALITY of our lives is vastly improved. It is helping mothers have the energy and ability to play with their children. Giving people the ability to fit on an airplane seat or experience a roller coaster. If parents live a life on the sidelines, a prisoner in their bodies, how likely do you think it will be they pass on those same lifestyle to their children? Answer: VERY.
Some people have so many comorbidities that they have to have surgery to be able to lose the weight. Perhaps they are too heavy to exercise, and are in so much arthritic pain, walking to the mailbox is strenuous exercise. Surgery gives people the ability to enjoy exercise, and as we learn to enjoy, instead of dread it, we are further motivated to continue exercising.
I am also going to make the assumption that if you have the need for surgery, you have already tried every diet, every gimmick and fad, multiple times over, and nothing has been sustainable for the long-term. You may be at a genetic disadvantage, and while it seems so easy for others to lose weight, you need the metabolic reset of bariatric surgery to be on the same playing field as the person who can lose weight effortlessly. Bariatric surgery gives you the fighting chance you’ve never had before.
Those who accuse us of taking the easy way out imply the surgery does all the work for you, but that is simply not true. Your surgery is a tool. It’s just one of the many factors that will determine whether or not you are a weight loss success. You are still going to need to change your lifestyle in regards to eating and exercising.
Do you know what else is just a tool? In Vitro Fertilization. But would anyone ever accuse a couple facing infertility that conceiving their children by IVF is “taking the easy way out”? (Man, I hope not!!)
If there is medical intervention that will help resolve many of your health problems and make you less dependent on multiple medications, wouldn’t you take it??
Life after the surgery requires major adjustment. Not only is it difficult learning how to feed your newly-arranged guts, but after the first six months (referred to as “the honeymoon stage“), the surgery doesn’t have as much of an influence over your weight loss as it originally had, and you are now, for the rest of your life, on a low-carb eating plan. And if you disobey your nutritionist’s or surgeon’s dietary advice and eat something high in carbs or high in fat, you will still suffer the consequences of dumping syndrome. You also suffer the consequences of eating around your surgery and going back to the old habits that made you obese in the first place.
One of my favorite fellow bariatric bloggers, Nikki, from Bariatric Foodie, put so eloquently what the adjustment to bariatric surgery feels like:
Imagine waking up tomorrow and your stomach was a fraction of the size it was before. Imagine taking your first bite of food in the morning and that bite of food makes you violently ill – and you don’t quite know why. Imagine everything you eat makes you violently ill. Imagine going out to eat with friends and being done with your whole meal before your friends have taken three bites of an appetizer. Imagine having the whole world see you shrink into a person you don’t know and have never been before, all while you are supposed to be joyful (instead of freaking out, which is what you really are). Imagine having to remember to take vitamins every day. Imagine having doing the same workout you are doing “the hard way” except your body has only a fraction of the calories to sustain it. Imaging going through all that and having someone imply that you are doing things the “easy” way.
No matter what way you do it, losing weight is hard. So don’t say that anymore.
Another thing you may be told when preparing for bariatric surgery is, “My friend had surgery, and she gained it all back.”
Maybe we will gain it all back, that’s possible. It is up to you on whether or not that happens. But I promise you, if you stick to your dietary guidelines, going back to the basics will take the weight back off again. Your pouch is not broken! It’s still there. Dust it off and learn to utilize it again by going back to the basics.
Perhaps our family and friends say it is the easy way out because they are afraid. Please know that it is very common for relationships with other people to change after surgery. Our family and friends may struggle with knowing how they fit into our new lifestyle, and that’s OK. It is common to lose friends during any process of big change, and even divorce rates are high in the bariatric community, so having a heart-to-heart talk with those you love will help set up expectations, so you can work through them together. Let them know you need them to be your encouragement and support.
If you do not have support from family and friends, your surgeon’s office will most likely have a local support group you could (actually, you SHOULD) attend. Also, seek out a referral for a therapist, preferably one with experience in food issues and eating disorders. There are countless support groups on Facebook, including our own, Bariatric Buddies – hosted by the Barivangelist!
It is so important for those of us who have had surgery to be a good mentor and part of a support network to people newly having bariatric surgery. Every voice matters.
Again from Nikki, regarding the condescending beliefs on bariatric surgery:
The perception is that weight loss surgery is purely elective, that it is an easier way of losing weight and that people who have had weight loss surgery have somehow not worked as hard as people utilized a traditional diet and exercise method.
The reality is that weight loss surgery is becoming widely accepted in the medical community as a valid and effective resolution to obesity. While it can be argued that weight loss surgery is more invasive than other methods of weight loss, my contention is that weight loss surgery is an equal valid method of weight loss and deserves the same amount of awareness and objectivity as any other method. That is not to say that we celebrate it and deem it a cure all, but that we keep as open a mind to people whose weight loss has resulted from weight loss surgery as those who went the traditional route.
There’s also a perception that obesity is strictly behavioral. I’ve heard it said many times that if people could “control themselves, eat better and move their bodies” obesity would not be such a problem. That theory would work except for this: I know many people of a normal BMI who don’t control themselves, don’t eat healthy food and certainly don’t move their bodies! So the epidemic of obesity has to be a bit more dynamic than that. But with magazine covers that laud weight loss methods that utilize “No surgery! No gimmicks!” we reinforce the idea that obesity is a character defect more than it is a serious medical problem.
AMEN, girl. A million high fives.